Still making my way through the Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature
. Very good article by Yaakov Elman placing Rabbinic Judaism in the context of Persian culture. Essentially, he is making a couple of interesting points that I was not aware of. One is he is pointing out the similarities between Zoroastrianism and Judaism which I was not previously aware of. I knew that a lot of the demonology and angel-related stuff came from Zoroastrianism, but I was not aware that Zoroastrianism was heavily focused on the concept of ritual impurity (tum'a). Like Judaism, there was a concept of tum'at met (from corpses), tum'at nevelah (from dead animals) and niddah (from menstruating women). As a matter of fact, the stringencies of niddah were much stricter for Zoroastrians. Menstruating women had to retire to a windowless hut. Elman's theory is that the notion of "seven clean days", whereupon the women took up this stringency to remain niddah, may have come from the fact that compared to Zoroastrianism, Judaism seemed lax, and so the entire populace, Rabbis and common folk, felt that adding that stringency would make us "compete" in the religious marketplace (in terms of the image of Judaism). Nobody wanted to be "outfrummed" by the Persians.
Another interesting fact is that like Judaism, Zoroastrianism also had a ancient oral tradition, over a millenium old. Both the Rabbis and the Magi had to defend the authority of the oral tradition against religions such as Manichaeism
, which tried to play it down. As a matter of fact, the writing down of the Talmud, and the Avestas(Zoroastrian holy writings) happened about the same time and may have been motivated by this same competition with Manichaeism.
Overall, this article was quite enlightening. I remember how blown away I was when I found out that the sacrificial cult of Ugarit was almost identical to the Biblical order of sacrifices. In many ways, this article was just as illuminating in it's drawing of parallels between Zoroastrian and Jewish beliefs and practices.